This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
"Above the lowly plants it towers, The fennel, with its yellow flowers, And in an earlier age than ours Was gifted with the wondrous powers Lost vision to restore".
A carminative oil is distilled from the Fennel, which is employed in the making of cordials. Shakespeare, in his play of Henry the Fourth, tells of "' eating conger and Fennel" (two highly stimulating things together) as the act of a libertine. The Garden Fennel is admirably corrective of flatulence. If from two to four drops of its essential oil are taken on a small lump of sugar, or, similarly, if a tea be made of the bruised green herb, and drunk, a small teacupful at a time, any griping of the bowels, with flatulent distension, will be promptly relieved; as likewise the bellyache of infants by reduced quantities of the same tea. Chemically Fennel yields also a fixed fatty principle, some sugar, and some starch, with a bitter resinous extract. Gerarde has taught that "the green leaves of the Fennel eaten doe fill women's brestes with milk." The camphoraceous vapour of its essential oil will cause the tears, and the saliva to flow. A syrup prepared from the expressed juice of the herb, was formerly given for chronic coughs. The plant was eaten in olden times as a savoury herb. Its leaves are served nowadays with salmon to correct the oily indigestibility thereof. Roman bakers put the herb under their loaves in the oven for giving the bread an agreeable flavour.
A physician to the first Emperor of Germany saw a monk cured by his tutor in nine days of a cataract, simply by applying frequently to the eyes a strong decoction of the whole Fennel plant (bruised whilst fresh), in boiling water, and then allowed to become cool. It was formerly the practice to boil Fennel with all fish; and French epicures keep their fresh fish in Fennel-leaves so as to make the flesh firm. The whole herb is thought to confer longevity, strength, and courage; though an old proverb has said, ominously enough, "To sow Fennel is to sow sorrow." Keats, 1817, who was first a student of medicine, and then a poet, has sung: "Fill your baskets high, with Fennel green, and balm, and golden pines." John Evelyn has taught that the peeled stalks, soft, and white, of the cultivated Garden Fennel, when dressed "like salery," 'exercise a pleasant action conducive to sleep. The Italians eat these blanched stalks, which they call "Cartucci" as a salad. Fennel seeds, when macerated in spirit of wine (together with the seeds of Juniper, and Caraway), make a cordial which is noted for promoting a copious flow of urine in dropsy.
If the herb is dried, and powdered, a valuable eye-wash can be prepared therefrom, half a teaspoonful being infused in a wineglassful of cold water, and presently strained off clear. A similar application will speedily relieve earache, and toothache, being then first made hot, if desired.
Wm. Coles, in his Nature's Paradise (1650), taught that "both the seeds, leaves, and roots of our Garden Fennel are much used in drinks, and broths, for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldinesse, and cause them to grow more gaunt, and lank".
The ancient Greek name, Marathron, of the herb, as derived from the verb maraino, to grow thin, seems to have conveyed a similar meaning. Hot Fennel tea, made by pouring boiling water on the bruised seeds, and flowers, is an efficient promoter of female functions (half a pint of water on a teaspoonful of the bruised seeds.) Also against fleas, some of the seeds if carried in a small muslin bag about the person will be effective.